Packing for Maui or the Big Island of Hawaii When You’re Not Staying in a Hotel or Resort

Why write this article? There are a lot of Hawaii and island-specific packing list articles already on the internet? so why write on more

  1. This is specifically for people staying in a condo with a full kitchen
  2. IMHO, most packing lists are missing some finer details.
  3. This is for women who like to pack light.

There are all kinds of accommodations on Maui and the Big Island. There’s everything from independent condo complexes that you can rent from sites like  AirBnB and VRBO as well as condo-resorts like the Westin Maui in Kaanapali and the Montage in Kapalua. To be clear, this article is written for people staying at independent condos – not resort condos. For people staying at a hotel or resort, the way this article would be different is I’d recommend packing more clothes and not packing any of the cooking/food items you’ll see later in the article.

Staying in a condo means:

  • You have access to a washer and dryer so you can pack less, wash and re-wear.
  • You’re cooking and cleaning so thinking through a menu for grocery shopping and maybe even taking some things with you, such as spices.
  • I’d also add that there’s not as much social ‘pressure’ to get dressed up since you’re eating most of your meals in your condo vs. eating at a restaurant. So this goes back to the first bullet of packing less but also not worrying so much about having the latest resort-wear.

{What I Packed For Late August Trip to Maui
and Late April Trip to the Big Island}

  • 3 rash guard/swim shirts
  • 2 pairs of board shorts
  • 1 swim skirt
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 2 long sleeve moisturize wicking shirts
  • 1 wide brimmed hat (I also brought a baseball cap but never used it as the wide brimmed offers much better sun protection).
  • 1 light rain jacket
  • 1 cute jumpsuit
  • 1 cute top
  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • 1 pair of hiking pants
  • 1 pair of yoga pants
  • 1 pair of khaki shorts
  • 2-3 Sports bras
  • Panties + socks
  • 1 pair of hiking shoes
  • 1 pair of sneakers
  • 1 pair of water shoes
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • Toiletries, hair ties, hair brush (the condo had a hair dryer)

Other items:

  • Purse or clutch wallet
  • Dry bag (for water activities)
  • Camera + camera gear (I recommend 1 zoom lens + 1 wide angle lens + waterproof camera).
  • Binoculars (during whale season: December to April and/or if lava is flowing at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park).
  • Flashlight (I felt like a travel badass on my last trip to Maui; I’ll share why below).
  • Reef Safe sunscreen (or buy it there)
  • Reusable water bottle (save the planet and some money)
  • Hand sanitizer (do I need to explain?)
  • Extension chord (I explain below)
  • Wiz gear or whatever you use to suspend your phone while driving

‘Condo’ Items: These are things that may or may not be included in your rental that are kinda worth it to pack rather than buy once you get there because they’re small and lightweight:

  • Travel laundry sheets/pods
  • Fabric softener sheets
  • Garbage bags

If you’re checking in a bag and you have space, you might as well add a roll of paper towel and some toilet paper. At the condos I’ve stayed at they generally include a ‘starter kit’, which is usually 1 roll of paper towel, 1-2 rolls of toilet paper 1-2 pods of laundry detergent, no fabric softener. Shampoo, conditioner and soap are hit or miss. And just the garbage bags that are in each trash can.

FYI, all of this, plus the food items I packed (listed below), plus my husband’s stuff fit into 1 large Samsonite suitcase that we checked in. If I hadn’t packed the food and removed the sunscreen and bought it on the island instead, we could have each travelled with a carry-on.

This will cover you for most things you have planned on Maui and the Big Island. Below I’ve broken down things to wear for specific parts or activities on Maui as well as the Big Island. So you can add/remove items from your own packing list. For instance, if you’re not going to sunrise or sunset at Haleakala or you’re not going to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park then you don’t need to pack all of that cold weather gear.

Preparing Ahead. On my most recent trip to Maui we decided, before we left, not to hike the Pipiwai Trail, the Waihee Ridge Trail, nor do the Road to Hana nor Haleakala. As such I didn’t take pack my hiking shoes. I just took my regular sneakers. Additionally, I could have left the two hiking shirts at home since my other clothes sufficed for the hikes we did do.

Packing for the Unexpected. I didn’t end up wearing the cute jumpsuit nor the cute top on this trip but I’d still pack something nice for a future trip. On my last trip to Maui, we randomly ran into friends on the Island and met up with them for dinner. I was glad I had something nicer to wear for that.

My Flashlight Story. A flashlight is one of those pieces of gear that you don’t need often but when you need it, you just need it. And sometimes your phone just won’t suffice. On my last trip to Maui there was a power outage, at night, throughout all of Kihei. I felt like a total travel badass when I busted out my flashlight, enabling us to conserve the batteries on our phones. I think it lasted for about 2 hours.

Pack an Extension Chord. In our age of cell phone dependence, it can be annoying to arrive at a place where your cell phone chord doesn’t reach the electrical outlet closest to the nightstand by the bed. I learned this the hard way. Now I travel with an extension chord.

Purse Or Clutch Wallet: Whenever I’m carrying my backpack as my carry-on, I have to remember to pack a small purse or clutch. On my last trip, I forget one and ended up traipsing around Whole Foods on Maui with my entire backpack. Plus it’s nice to have if you go out to eat etc.

Pack Your Wiz Gear. In Hawaii, regardless of the island you visit, you’re probably going to rent a car. And you’re going to be using Google Maps a lot. On our previous trip to Hawaii we forgot our Wiz Gear from the car at home so we had to put the phone in the center console where it constantly fell or moved. So whomever was in the passenger seat ended up holding the phone – annoying. I remembered the Wiz Gear on this most recent trip and it made all the difference.

{If You’re Going to Sunrise at Haleakala
or Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park}

It’s difficult to get a reservation to see sunrise at Haleakala now as there are limited spots but, if you are lucky enough to get a reservation then the most important thing to prepare for is: COLD. Don’t be one of those people who thinks, “it’s Hawaii, it’ll be blazing hot weather!” Well yeah, but not at sunrise…at elevation…in East Maui. Some people that don’t go prepared end up sitting in their car – during sunrise, which kinda sucks when you’ve travelled all that way and when reservations are pretty hard to get.

Similarly, the Hilo side of the Big Island is completely different than the Kona side just like East and West Maui feel totally different. Wherever there are waterfalls there’s rain forest and….of course, rain. We were really cold at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I’m talking wearing a heavy goose down jacket – cold. Throughout our 2.5 day visit there we experienced everything from pouring rain, drizzles, wind to hot weather. I was glad we were prepared, otherwise that would have diminished the experience.

If you do plan to go see sunrise at Haleakala or visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you’ll also want to pack:

  • Warm, water resistant jacket
  • Long pants
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Warm hat, like a beanie
  • Socks and closed toe shoes
  • If you get really cold, bring gloves
  • Camera

For Haleakala: super prepared people bring beach chairs or a blanket to sit while enjoying. If you just can’t function without your coffee and bagel in the morning bring your tumbler and some snacks.


For Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Hiking Kilauea: Bring a rain jacket and dress in layers, so you can shed as you warm up from hiking. There are no facilities throughout the hike. There are some in front of the lava tube entrance.

Driving the Chain of Craters Road at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: There are a lot of lookout points, hikes you can do as well as spots with tables and benches with beautiful views making them great for a picnic. It was cold, windy and on-and-off raining the day I went at the (end of April 2018), so I was glad I had cold weather and rain gear.

For Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Glow At Night: super prepared people bring beach chairs to sit and wait for sunset to see the glow at Jaggar Museum (assuming there is lava flowing). Bring binoculars. We saw people with super camera lenses setup on tripods. The day we went we got lucky as it started to rain right when we got in our car to leave. We were stoked that we saw the lava glowing (2 days before the 2018 eruption). And I felt bad for people in t-shirts, shorts, and flip flops who were already shivering in the cold and now running back to their cars because it started to rain.

Pro Tip: If the lava is flowing, get to the Jaggar Museum early and claim a space. The parking lot gets full pretty fast. Shortly after the sun set, we enjoyed seeing the lava glow and we left and headed for dinner. As we were leaving, the traffic on the other side to get to the parking lot was at a standstill. It looked like a Southern California freeway at 5pm on a Monday. We skipped all of that mad rush because we got there about 1.5 hours before sunset. It was way more pleasant and worth it to get there early and enjoy the views at Jaggar Museum, walk around inside the museum and talk with other tourists who were sitting near us, than it would have been to it in traffic just waiting to get into the parking lot.

The other benefit of this was after a long day we were ready for a nice, hot, freshly made dinner. The town of Volcano is small. There are literally a handful of restaurants in Volcano town itself. The city of Hilo is a good 30 miles away. We stayed at a condo in Volcano just a mile from the National Park, so after a very long day of hiking we did not want to drive all the way to Hilo and back for dinner. And even though our condo had a full kitchen, we were exhausted and didn’t feel like cooking. We were in luck though, since pretty much everyone was in that traffic trying to see the glow, the 3 restaurants in Volcano had fewer guests waiting for a table so we got seated immediately.

Pro Pro Tip: Pack a few snacks to enjoy/hold you over as you wait for the sun to set.

Wish I’d Thought Of It on the Big Island: Like many visitors to the Big Island we split our time between the Western and Eastern sides. We drove from our condo in Waikoloa Village to Volcano via Highway 200 aka Saddle Road. One thing we didn’t think through was how to refrigerate our groceries on the day we travelled from the west to the east side of the Big island. We set out in the early morning but check in at our condo in Volcano was’t until late afternoon. We ended up throwing everything away and because we were staying in Volcano only for 2 nights, it wasn’t worth it to buy more groceries. Lesson Learned: invest in a collapsible cooler.

{Activities After Haleakala Sunrise}

When you’re preparing for your sunrise at Haleakala don’t forget a change of clothes or wear layers so you can shed as the day progresses and gets warmer. Most people combine the Haleakala sunrise with other activities in East Maui, such as the Road to Hana, a hike, a day at the beach etc. You’ll be hating life if you’re wearing all of those warm layers from the morning. So bring a change of clothes or wear layers that you can shed and store in your car.

If you’re hiking, you’ll want hiking shoes. Sneakers are ok if that’s all you have but proper hiking shoes or boots are ideal. Moisture wicking and quick drying clothes are great. And long sleeves and pants provide the most protection from the sun as well as foliage on your hikes.

{Swimwear}

If you’re focused on packing light, opt for ‘athletic’ swim gear i.e. board shorts with a rash guard or a swim shirt. Not only is this swimwear comfortable but doubles as clothes since it looks like athletic gear. I’m not talking about the flowery rashguards from Roxy, but this season Athleta and Nike had a few swim shirts that look like athletic gear and can be worn as such. So with one outfit you’re set – ready for whatever activities you have planned for the day – everything from a coastal walk to snorkeling. One outfit, no fuss + comfort.

{If You’re Going To West and or Northwest Maui}

West and Northwest Maui gets more rain than the rest of the island. We experienced rain in Napili and Kapalua in December and oddly enough, if you drive ten minutes south to Kaanapali it’s bright and sunny. In August the rain was coming down pretty hard on our drive passed Napili to the Nakalele Blowhole. It was pouring when we got there. We waited it out for about 10 minutes in our car and the rain stopped. So, the point is bring a rain jacket, wear shoes that have good grip, and don’t forget a rain cover for your camera. And most importantly, don’t be discouraged if it’s raining. It will likely stop after a short while!

{Bras}

It’s hot on Maui, especially during summer and wearing some uncomfortable underwire bra – would be just that, SUPER uncomfortable. I packed sports bras. Extra points for machine washable – no separate garment bag necessary.

{If You’re Going Jogging or Walking}

I packed workout clothes and sneakers thinking I’d go for a walk or jog everyday on Maui – not on the beach, but outside. That ended up not happening because where I was staying was on a very busy street without a sidewalk. So I ended up not using the workout clothes I packed. I got my workouts from all the hiking we did, instead.

Waikoloa Village on the Big Island, on the other hand was a great place to go for a jog so I got use out of that gear there. So the point is take a couple minutes to look at the surroundings of where you’re staying on Google Maps – zooming in to a street view so you can get a lay of the land.

If your athletic wear doesn’t have clothes don’t forget to pack one of those workout money belt things.

{If You’re Going To Do All Your Own Cooking}

On Maui, we cooked and ate all of our meals at the condo or we had picnics. It was fun and romantic to cook together after an active day in paradise, watching the sunset over the ocean from our condo and enjoying our meals on the lanai.

I packed some things from home such as spices, the oatmeal I like and a few cups of rice. Basically anything that we wouldn’t finish if we bought it on the island. It wasn’t much stuff and worked out really well. It turned out the condo had all of the spices and cooking oil but that is not guaranteed and it’s stuff that previous visitors left behind. I didn’t mind using stuff previous visitors left behind such as cooking oil which I intentionally didn’t pack with me, but I checked before using.

Lunch Everyday. For lunch we packed picnics everyday. The condos we stayed at each had a big cooler as well as cold packs (we packed our own cold packs from home just in case the condo didn’t have them). We loved picnic’ing! By the way, I did inquire about the cooler and the cold packs before booking the condo. They both responded that there was a cooler but that they weren’t sure about the cold packs. The cold packs must have been left behind by a previous visitor.

Everyday we picnic’d at some stunning location. Often we were the only ones or with few people around so we could savor the sound of the waves.

To put this into perspective there are like two restaurants in Kihei with ocean views. You’ll also find some in Wailea, Kaanapali, Lahaina and the Napili and Kapalua area – so of course they exist but we loved the flexibility of having everything with us so we could stop and eat wherever and whenever we wanted. The other thing that I should mention is that my husband and I are vegetarian. Fish and other non-vegetarian food is really popular and a big part of the experience of traveling there for many visitors, but isn’t relevant for us.

I packed hand sanitizer, travel soap and travel hand towels, so we could wash our hands in case wherever we stopped didn’t have facilities. The condo had beach towels, beach chairs, a sun umbrella so we had everything we might need for our picnics.

{Packing Depends On How Your Day Goes}

In my opinion, Maui is best experienced in the morning. It’s a great place for early birds. Whether you love adventure – hiking, water sports and snorkeling or prefer to lounge on the beach, the best time to enjoy Maui is in the morning when the water and wind are calm. The wind starts to pick somewhere between noon to 1pm and remains that way pretty much the rest of the day. In August sunset was around 6:45pm. FYI, wind and big waves on Maui are a thing, especially during summer.

Each day we were up by 6am and out the door by 7:30am. Since Maui gets very windy in the afternoon, especially during the summer, we were often back at our condo between 3-4pm after an action packed day of hiking, snorkeling, swimming, site seeing.

And once we were back, we were back for the night. Our oceanfront condo had a lanai where we could savor our home cooked meals with unobstructed stunning views of the ocean, waves crashing, and green sea turtles (honu) popping their thumb-like heads out of the water. When I was there at the end of December, I spent hours on the lanai, watching Humpback Whales swim by.

So what does all of this mean in terms of packing? It meant that I didn’t need to pack separate evening outfits. I had the jumpsuit but ended up not wearing it on Maui but I did wear to the Lava Lava Beach Club at A’Bay on the Big Island.

{Shoes}

I packed 3 pairs of shoes for the Big Island as well as Maui. And these were all that I needed.

  • Sneakers
  • Water shoes
  • Slippers

I wore my sneakers on a few of the hikes and if I had to do it all over again I would have brought my hiking shoes instead of my sneakers. I didn’t do any of the more hardcore hikes in East Maui but for my own peace of mind I would have liked the security during the slippery sections of the Kapalua Coastal Trail and at Nakalele Blowhole, especially as it has recently rained.

I basically lived in my Keen water shoes everyday. Honestly, water shoes have been one of the best pieces of travel gear I have ever purchased. Even though Maui beaches are stunning and the sand is incredibly soft I kept my water shoes on while I played in the water (not while snorkeling). Just a personal preference that gives me peace of mind that my feet are protected. I’m the type of person who gets mesmerized by my surroundings when I travel, which means I often walk first and look where I’m going later. Thank goodness my husband keeps an eye on me! He has more sneaker-y looking water shoes.  Whenever we were on the beach, he removed his.

A Note About Keens. So when I’m at some paradisical beach…where sea turtles are swimming about, you better believe my focus is on the ocean, NOT where I’m walking! My Keens have saved me from many a stubbed toe and stepping on sharp rocks. If I haven’t made it clear, get a good pair of water shoes. I originally bought my Keens for a trip to Belize and was doubtful that I’d ever wear them again. I was SO wrong. They’ve become an essential for any all beach/water trips.

I don’t work for Keen nor do I get paid by them to say that – just an honest testimonial of my experience.

Slippers. I ended up not using the slippers at all. I’d pack them again for a future trip. Plus slippers are small and light to pack.

Again since we were staying in a condo, that was not at a resort I didn’t pack anymore than that nor my cutest sandals which are also heavier. I was focused on function more than fashion. The slippers I did pack were cute enough in case we decided to go out for dinner or something. If we were staying at a resort my fashion choices would have been totally different.

{Ladies With Long Hair}

If you have long hair, you might want to pack some humidity serum. Maui is pretty humid and my waist length hair definitely poofed out and became difficult to brush at times. The humidity serum helped.

If you want something a little more granola go for coconut oil. Just be careful not to lather on too much, as it quickly turns into a greasy, oily mess. I like the coconut oil because it acts as a dehumidifier and moisturizes the hair and repairs from the drying sea salt and sun at the same time.

What I didn’t pick (and wish I had) was some lotion or almond oil. Almond oil is an incredible natural moisturizer that rejuvenates the skin and makes it look amazing. I didn’t think I’d need moisturizer and I was totally wrong. My skin was dry from all the sun exposure and salt water.

{Big Island or Maui, Which to Choose?}

Obviously a lot of this is personal preference but here are some tangible differences that I observed:

Accommodation is generally less expensive on the Big Island compared to Maui.


More oceanfront development on Maui, so you can stay at an oceanfront condo and not have to drive to get to the beach.


There are a lot more beaches with soft sand on Maui than the Big Island. On Maui, practically everywhere up and down the West side you’re met with pristine beaches and views. Of course there are such beaches on the Kona side (West side) of the Big Island as well but just not as many, which means more crowded during peak season. The Big Island has a lot of very rocky beaches – not ideal for laying out or a chill day at the beach.


There are more beaches on the Big Island that you have to hike to get to. They’re worth it. But on Maui, you park and within minutes you’re on this breathtaking beach.

On Maui driving around on the highways, you look out the window and there’s some insane view and gorgeous green lushness. On the Big Island you see a lot of {interesting} volcanic rock.


Unique Landscapes, each has something fantastic to see: Maui = Road to Hana; Big Island = Hawaii Volcanoes National Park


Night dive or snorkel with manta rays: Kona, Big Island. On Maui it’s pretty much only during the day.


Overall snorkeling: much better on Maui than the Big Island (actually best on Maui compared to Oahu and Kauai as well).


Waterfalls: IMO, Maui’s are better. Akaka Galls and Rainbow Falls are cool but they’re so touristy + you can’t swim in them like you can in many falls on Maui.


Seeing lava: The Big Island


See Green Sea Turtles On Land: both. Ho’Okipa Beach on Maui and Punalu’u aka Black Sand Beach on the Big Island.


Whale watching: Both; December thru May


Wind Surfing: Ho’Okipa Beach on Maui is one of the top destinations in the world.


Family-Friendly? Both; Couple-friendly? Both.


Bottom line: both islands are fantastic (all of the Hawaiian islands are)! And they’re both very much worth visiting.

If I had to do it all over again: on the Big Island, instead of staying at Waikoloa Village, I’d stay closer to Kahalu’u Beach Park which was awesome for snorkeling and a nice place to chill for the day. It’s a rocky beach but if you have beach chairs it’s fine. And I’d add 1-2 nights to stay near Punalu’u aka Black Sand Beach.

On Maui, next time I go the only thing I’d do differently is instead of staying in South Maui for all of the nights, I’d split time  and stay in East Maui for 2 nights to get that experience.


{Conclusion}

I hope this article will be a helpful resource as you get ready for your adventure to Maui and/or the Big Island! I tried to be nuanced and through in my recommendations, from helpful gear to packing according to the environment and different circumstances you’ll be in with an emphasis on packing light. Aloha!

Samta, Founder, PassportPages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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